I chanced to meet a noble lady, and thought her tale worthy of passing on. Born in the 1920s, she was a sickly child, and her parents thought she might not live. A week later, they were a bit surprised that she survived. As they both worked, her grandparents suggested she be left with them - out in the Tuscan countryside of Italy, the fresh air and healthy diet would help her to thrive. Those first few years, she did just that, and was soon quite the little wild child of the area! Off she would go each morning, incapable of sitting still; stealing eggs from the chickens, skipping through fields of grain, and climbing fig trees to gorge herself on their ample offerings.
Finally, it was time for school, and she moved into the City of Florence to be with her parents. She was a voracious reader, just about consuming books. Her mother would send her off to bed, and she'd take a flashlight under the covers to read late into the night. Here were stories that showed her the world! Together with American movies, they taught her about Helen of Troy, the Three Musketeers, and countless other characters and places. While not the best student, she managed to learn, and improve herself at every level. Yet, life for her family was hard. The Great Depression had hit, and as bad as it was in America, it was worse in many parts of Europe.
When times are tough, people will turn to almost any source for answers. So it was that Mussolini and his Fascists came to power, with promises of a Second Roman Empire. The girl wore her school uniform with pride; she marched in the parades, and she sang the songs of glory and victory. But, behind the facade of splendor, there was trouble and strife. Why had her Jewish friends moved away, and why was it forbidden to ask about the school, where they were sent?
Then, the war came home to the people. The Germans came in; the bombings began, and things like food and fuel and water were in short supply. The plenty of childhood gave way to the starvation of youth. Food was raw potatoes, cheese, and a bit of salami. Her health declined, and she grew ill; her appendix had to be removed, and medical supplies were in as short supply as food. With no sutures available, the doctor clamped her colon closed with a paperclip! Later, another friend disappeared - shot by the Germans for spying.
Yet, amid the toil and strife of war, she was able to know love. She met and fell in love with a fine young man, but her parents did not approve, and forbid the union. Her heart shattered, and she vowed to never love another.
When, at last the Allies came to the city, life slowly returned to normal, in more ways than one. For, as the lights returned, the gas burned, and food returned to the stores, man after man proclaimed his love for the now lovely young lady. She ignored them, and so did her parents. Then, one cold day in January, 1945, during a light snowstorm, she chanced to meet an older American soldier. When he came to visit, her parents allowed her to go out with him. Her mother told her not to worry about the age difference - her Nonno and Nonna, which mean grandfather and grandmother, had such a difference, and they had always been happy. Her mother told her, he will be a good provider.
And thus, she once more opened her heart, and allowed love to slowly seep in. when at last, he proclaimed his love for her, and asked her to marry him, she said yes; and her parents gave their approval.
So it was that, in the spring, they were married. Her father, not fluent in English, practiced saying, "I do" in front of the mirror. He wanted to be ready for when the Minister asked, "Who gives this woman in marriage?" And then, the Minister forgot to ask the question! He was quite disappointed.
It was then that the lady began the biggest change in her young life. Only eighteen and she was off to America, the land of the movies she had seen as a child. The sight of the skyscrapers of New York awed her; the Americans were Titans - for only demigods could build such towering edifices. She pledged to be a good American, and embarked on the next phase of her life.
This was your typical, stereotype 1950's suburban lifestyle in Massachusetts: Mom, Dad, a couple kids, a dog and a cat - the American dream. There were many joys along the way - babies, school, friends and family, summer vacations to Essex and Martha's Vineyard, trips back to Italy, and Boy Scout camp outs. There were also heartaches and troubles, some comical; a son locking himself in the bathroom and a fireman having to climb a ladder to get him! Having to get up early to deliver newspapers because another son was sick or away; chickenpox and mumps, broken legs and arm. She dealt with all of them with strength and love.
She moved on to the middle of her life, and the trail grew rocky. Her husband, that noble pillar of strength, developed a few cracks along the way. Affairs, drinking, and other blemishes tarnished his "armor". She stuck it out as long as she could, and finally divorced him. It broke her heart, but she had to do it.
Life was tough for a while, some friends and family left, she had to find work, after being a stay-at-home mom for so long, and she had to adjust to yet another new place to live. She moved to Florida, and entered the next phase of her life. Times became very tough, and again she left the man in her life. But now, she was stronger - she didn't need anyone to take care of her; she was on her own.
Yet, she was still a lady of love and compassion. She found love and married, and they were happy for several years. When he passed on, she had the strength to go on - alone. Now she was surrounded by her family, and she cared for them as they cared for her. And, yet again, she found love. Once more, they were happy together, and shared a few tender years before he too passed away.
And now, she has entered the Golden Years of her life, and has all that a noble lady deserves. She is rich in the love and devotion of family. Able to enjoy the fruits of her labours, she divides her time between winters in Florida, and summers back in Massachusetts. Although the winters there are too much for her; the place still holds a special place in her heart, and she returns each summer.
A noble lady, in every sense of the word - and I am proud to call her: Mother.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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